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Knocked up

Posted by R. Berg on February 20, 2002

In Reply to: Knock, Knocking shop posted by Gary on February 20, 2002

: : : : : The question came up in conversation late one night, enough said....

: : : : : Where does the phrase 'she got knocked up' come from?

: : : : Excellent question. I could have sworn blind that this was London slang, because it's in such widespread usage over here, but a little research assures me that it's US-based. I have no clue how or why it originated, though.

: : : : As a side note, it's an interesting little phrase, and typical of the subtle complexities of English. Those two little words have at least four quite different meanings, as follows:-

: : : : a) To arouse or awaken. "Knock me up at 6:30."
: : : : b) To create or cook hastily. "I knocked up bacon and eggs."
: : : : c) To score at sport. "The captain knocked up a quick 30."
: : : : d) To impregnate. "She got knocked up last year."

: : : : There are probably others. Never let it be said that English is an easy language to learn.

: : :
: : : A little site called asserts that the term orignates in London. It doesn't give any other explanation but it is listed along with the term "knocking shop" for brothel. I'm not sure whether knocking shop is used here in the US, but it seems like it might be a clue to the phrases origin. Strangely the term 'knock' does not seem to be used as a euphamism for sex otherwise.

: : : It's not inconceivable that it was orignally a British English term that migrated, then reappeared later as a uniquely American, just in the same way the spelling of the word 'fetus'is thought to be American when it was originally spelled that way in Britain too.

: : Additionally, the getting-pregnant usage is widespread in America, but the other usages cited (arouse, cook hastily, score at sport) are strictly UK ... unheard here.

: The awaken usage used to be widespread enough in the UK for us to have 'knockers up' - a profession devoted to the task of tapping on the bedroom windows of factory workers to wake them for early morning shifts. Can't be many of them left now that workers have breakfast TV to get them in the mood.

: There's also 'Sagger maker's bottom knockers'. Real people these, who do what you might expect - they knock the bottoms of saggers. Saggers are the containers that are used in kilns to protect the pots being fired from damage. SMBKs are the people who clean them out.

Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, says "knocked up" means exhausted, pregnant. For the second meaning, "low: C. 19-20; mainly U.S. [From] 'knock,' v. 1."
That definition of "knock" is "(Of a man) to have sexual intercourse (with): low coll.: late C. 16-20. . . . See 'nock,' n., for possible etymology."
"'nock.' (As the posteriors, esp. the breech, it is [standard English . . . ] The female pudend: low: late C. 16-18. . . . Lit., a notch."